- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (AP) Wary residents of this Eastern Shore town are keeping a lookout for a marauding animal, said to be a jet-black panther bigger than most dogs.
News of sightings of the beast poured in to police in the days after it apparently mauled a woman in this island town better known for its wild ponies.
The drama heightened Friday when police used a photo lineup to charge that a well-fed house cat and a black Labrador retriever were responsible for the scare then had to back off the accusation when it turned out that the cat had an alibi.
"I wish I could tell you exactly what it is we're dealing with," said Keith Privett of the Accomack County Health Department, which investigates animal attacks. "It could be one of several different kinds of tropical big cat. It could be a crossbreed.
"If it is a house cat," he said, "it's the biggest house cat there's ever been."
Sightings of anomalous pantherlike animals are common in many parts of the world. For example, hundreds of people in southern England have reported seeing big cats, and a mysterious "Eastern panther" reportedly has been sighted in Canada and New England.
The recent sightings in Chincoteague apparently are a first for the Eastern Shore, although the Chesapeake Bay is said by some to be home to a reptilian creature similar to the Loch Ness monster and nicknamed "Chessie."
The pantherlike mystery creature made its first appearance about 2 p.m. on Jan. 15, when Helen White, 76, left her back door ajar as she answered the phone.
She said she saw a panther slipping into her mobile home. It was black and sleek and had large, almond-shaped eyes, "the greenest eyes I'd ever seen in anything's head," she said.
"When I screamed, that must have scared him, because that's when he grabbed me by the leg, and he tore the meat of my leg" before running off, she said.
Black panthers are a variety of leopard native to the tropics. This one was said to have been wearing a bright red collar.
Miss White was treated for deep scratches and animal bites that Mr. Privett called "severe, and unlike any we've seen from a house cat."
As word spread of the attack, county officials set traps in the neighborhood, hoping to snare what they hypothesized was an escaped or abandoned pet.
Police officers answered multiple reports of a prowling big cat on the south end of town. Officers saw no panthers, but they did see a black Lab on the loose.
Then police got a tip that one of Miss White's neighbors had a big black cat with a red collar. They found that the green-eyed animal weighed 18 to 20 pounds half the reported size of the renegade panther, but bulkier than the average house cat.
Armed with snapshots of that cat and several others, police visited Miss White on Friday. They showed her each of the mug shots. When a picture of neighbor's cat was shown, "She said: 'That's it. It's got those green eyes, and that's the one,'" Police Chief Edward Lewis said.
"I think we pretty well solved it," he said.
But county health officials differed and arranged a face-to-face meeting between Miss White and the neighbor's cat. Miss White immediately retracted her identification, saying her attacker was much larger.
The investigators also picked up a second exculpatory detail: The house cat was declawed.

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